Back in June I wrote a post: “Twitter to Replace the Phone?”  – suggesting that Twitter isn’t just  another marketing channel, but it is a communications channel that may end up as important as the phone. It looks like that has come to pass faster than I had imagined. This post has loitered in drafts, but I’m going to put it out there. On a weekend late last year I watched a disastrous series of events unfold via Twitter and Facebook as Eurostar had a number of failures of their service that left friends trapped and stranded.

Techcrunch was quick to pick up on Eurostar’s lack of use of Twitter, and slam UK agency We Are Social:

“It owns a Twitter account at @little_break, allied to its marketing site This was registered and run by “conversation agency” This is an agency which claims to be expert in the use of social media platforms like Twitter to communicate with the public. They appear to be slow to waking up to the crisis.”

Of course those that work in marketing in large businesses will know that there is a big difference between a marketing programs agency, a PR company and a crisis communications specialist. Campaigns-based agencies are rarely tasked with crisis comms, and in this case it would appear that We Are Social were retained around a specific campaign, rather than more general umbrella. Robin has responded on We Are Social’s Blog: A note about today’s Eurostar crisis – Within 24 hours the company had posted a video on YouTube and was tackling their communications.

In this instance, I’m fairly sure people affected weren’t asking for help on social media, and there was a more fundamental failure of communications and systems, but by day two people did want to know what was happening with their travel arrangements and bookings, and were asking on-line.

James Whatley of 1000Heads summed it up well in Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Brand Republic has a good write up on Eurostar’s next steps, which include cancelling their planned 2010 marketing activities, and re-aligning them, given where they now are.

All in all, it’s a pretty sorry tail, on one hand, Eurostar’s handling of the situation, logistically, seems to have left much to be desired, on the other, the focus by some blogs on the social media aspects shows a lack of maturity and understanding of big business. Just over a week on from the event you can see the ride that We Are Social has had.

The big take away is this: While social media might be many things, it is also another communications channel, which means it should be monitored (listened to!) and responded to. And that means not just on a campaigns basis. Also, in times of crisis, it can be a very effective, low effort, way to get information out – especially if you want to reach journalists!

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